Brigadier Chula Kodituwakku, on April 26, 2019, attributed the Easter Sunday carnage to four specific reasons, namely (1) battlefield setbacks suffered by ISIS (2) ISIS directing Zahran Hashim’s outfit to carry out the high profile attacks (3) massacre of Muslim worshippers in New Zealand, in 2019, and (4) domestic reasons.
Kodituwakku, in his capacity as the Director of Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI), addressed editors of national newspapers, and journalists, as well as representatives of television stations, on the invitation of the then Army Commander Lt. Gen. Mahesh Senanayake.
Seated at the head table, were the then President Maithripala Sirisena, flanked by Lt. Gen. Senanayake, and the then Northern Province Governor Dr. Suren Raghavan, and the venue, the Janadhipathy Mandiraya. (Senanayake retired in the third week of Aug 2019.
The retired Army Chief exploited the crisis caused by the Easter carnage to launch a short-lived political career. His effort ended disastrously. Having failed to obtain at least 50,000 votes at Nov 16, 2019 presidential election, Senanayake left the country, subsequently, for employment overseas. Dr. Raghavan secured a slot on the SLPP National List.
Neither Brig. Koditiwakku, nor any other person, at the head table, responded, though the media sought a clarification as regards what these domestic reasons were. The writer was among those present at the meeting summoned by President Sirisena, his (President) first encounter with the media, following the Easter Sunday attacks. Much to the surprise of those who had been there President Sirisena, who had been in Singapore at the time of the attack, claimed that he got to know about the incident, through social media. Reference was made to a friend who showed the relevant post to him (Politicos’ links to terrorist grouping: Prez promises no holds barred probe with strapline ‘Terror mastermind influenced by India-based ISIS’ April 27, 2019 The Island)(Close on the heels of Shavendra Silva being appointed the Commander of the Army, Kodituwakku was replaced.)
But when Sirisena recently appeared before the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (P CoI), in his capacity as the former President and Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces, he claimed, on the day of the Easter attacks, he was hospitalized and, therefore, didn’t have access even to his Chief Security Officer. Obviously, P CoI hadn’t sought an explanation from the former President as regards the contradictory answers as it was probably not aware of the President’s initial claim of a friend alerting him. Let us also hope that he won’t be given kid-glove treatment, like the way then PM Ranil Wickremesinghe was treated when being questioned before the Treasury Bond Commission, despite him having been in the thick of it.
In addition to the on-going P CoI, there were two other investigations, (1) a three-member committee, headed by Supreme Court Judge, Vijith Kumara Malalagoda, and (2) eight-member Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC), led by the then Deputy Speaker, Ananda Kumarasiri. In addition to them, PSC member, Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka, submitted a report, of his own, on the Easter attacks. However, concluded inquiries, as well as the ongoing PCoI and CID investigations, hadn’t really probed domestic reasons that may have contributed to the Easter attacks. Although Brig. Kodiruwakku included domestic reasons among four specific causes; there hadn’t been any genuine discussion/attempt to examine what these could be.
‘Deep State’ faulted
Dr. Rajan Hoole’s thought provoking ‘Sri Lanka’s Easter Tragedy: When the Deep State gets out of its Depth,’ discussed the circumstances leading to the Easter carnage – the worst single terror attack carried out, in Sri Lanka, against undefended targets. The author is the more even-handed brother of Prof. Ratnajeevan Hoole, member of the Election Commission who caused quite a number of controversies, in the run up to the Presidential election. Ratnajeevan Hoole had always responded swiftly to whatever issues raised by the media, regardless of the accusation made and the origins of it.
The writer recently had an opportunity to peruse the Sinhala translation of Dr. Rajan Hoole’s ‘Sri Lanka’s Easter Tragedy: When the Deep State gets out of its Depth,’ launched several weeks before the last presidential election, in Nov 2019. Translated by Mahinda Hatthaka (Movement for Defense of Democratic Rights), the Sinhala translation is an immensely readable tome that the writer believes shed light on the complex web of secrets/situations/relationships that led to the Easter carnage. Dr. Hoole, who authored ‘The Arrogance of Power: Myths, decadence and murder,’ in January 2001, quite clearly blamed the State elements for the attack. A founder member of the daring and pioneering University Teachers for Human Rights (UTHR) Jaffna, that stood up to the once mighty LTTE, albeit clandestinely, Dr. Hoole is explicit in his accusation that those who backed SLPP candidate Gotabaya Rajapaksa created an environment to deprive the Muslims of an opportunity to vote at the Nov 2019 presidential election. The author asserted that attempt failed while making reference to the plantation Tamils being disenfranchised in 1949, consequent to the 1948 Citizenship Act.
Interestingly, the author conveniently desisted from recalling how the LTTE-TNA combine denied the Northern community the opportunity to vote at the Nov 2005 presidential election. The calculated move definitely cost UNP candidate Ranil Wickremesinghe the election. Wickremesinghe lost by 186,000 votes.
Kumaran Pathmanathan, aka ‘KP,’ in an exclusive interview with the writer, in August 2010, asserted that the LTTE felt comfortable in having Mahinda Rajapaksa as the President as he could be dealt with much more easily than Wickremesinghe. The Rajapaksas proved Velupillai Prabhakaran wrong, four years after that decisive election. At the time of the interview, ‘KP’ was in the custody of the DMI.
Let me get back to Dr. Hoole’s work. In Chapter 4, the academic briefly discussed the possibility of the failure on the part of the now proscribed National Thowheed Jamaat (NTJ) to secure representation in parliament at the August 2015 general election. Had the NTJ succeeded in securing a foothold in parliament, the Easter Sunday carnage might not have happened, Dr. Hoole speculated, asserting that the NTJ adopted an aggressive strategy, in the wake of the electoral failure. Dr. Hoole based his quite controversial assessment on an electoral agreement, involving the NTJ, M.L.A.M. Hizbullah of the UPFA (United People’s Freedom Alliance) and Abdul Rahuman and Shibly Farook (both members of SLMC-Sri Lanka Muslim Congress, a constituent of the UNP-led coalition).
On similar lines, many have earlier pointed out that if not for old JRJ’s greed and incessant political intrigue to retain absolute power, whether it be through a by-election, or even in the highly rigged referendum to postpone the general election, in the early 80s, and had the UNP instead allowed room for greater pluralism, in parliament, by allowing the likes of the JVP to enter the August assembly, in a more level playing field, there wouldn’t have been a second southern blood bath, in the late 80s.
Dr. Hoole, without hesitation, whatsoever, likened the attempt made by Kattankudy-born Zahran Hashim to have some of his nominees, in parliament, to that of Prabhakaran’s successful arrangement with R. Sampanthan of the TNA. In terms of the agreement, the TNA acknowledged the LTTE as the sole representative of the Tamils, two years after the high-profile assassination of TULF lawmaker, Neelan Thiruchelvam, in 1999.
The UNP secured 106 seats, whereas the UPFA managed 95, at the August 2015 general election. A section of the SLFP-led UPFA backed the UNP to form the government in terms of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution that facilitated the despicable political project.
President Sirisena, who is also the leader of the SLFP, had no qualms in accommodating defeated M.L.A.M. Hizbullah on the UPFA National List. Hizbullah was among over half a dozen defeated UPFA candidates, accommodated on the National List. National List MP Hizbullah functioned as the Batticaloa political lord until he resigned in January 2019 to pave the way for President Sirisena loyalist, Shantha Bandara, to enter parliament. Hizbullah was rewarded with the appointment as the Eastern Province Governor. At the time of the Easter attacks, Hizbullah served as the Eastern Province Governor and Chairman of the Batticaloa Campus (Pvt) Limited. In a report presented to the Parliament Sectoral Sub-Committee on Higher Education and Human Resources, the scandalous politician identified himself as Dr. M.L.A.M. Hizbullah. In spite of failing to get elected, did Hizbullah serve the interests of Zahran Hashim?
Nexus between political parties and terrorists
Dr. Hoole dealt with complexities experienced by both Tamil and Muslim political parties represented in parliament, due to them having to deal with the LTTE and the NTJ, respectively. The author, in no uncertain terms, censured TNA leader R. Sampanthan for shielding the LTTE, accused of killing civilians trying to flee the area dominated by the group. The author, while acknowledging the inexcusable use of civilians as human shields, lambasted Sampanthan for misleading the media.
The particular media briefing, attended by journalists representing international media organizations, where Sampanthan alleged the government lied regarding the LTTE killing those trying to seek refuge in the government-held area, according to the author, took place on Feb 17, 2009. The military brought the war to a successful conclusion on the morning of May 19, 2009.
Dr. Hoole also referred to an alleged SLFP attempt to exploit the JVP, in the run-up to the Dec 19, 1988 presidential election and the Feb 15, 1989 general election. One cannot dispute Dr. Hoole’s contention that the SLFP remained silent on the JVP killings, while condemning extrajudicial operations carried out by security forces to justify claim the SLFP sought political power with the help of the JVP.
The author examined the gradual rise of the LTTE and the registration of the NTJ, in 2015, as well as basic differences between Tamil terrorism and the operation undertaken by Zahran Hashim, meant to be the Supreme Leader of the Sri Lankan Muslim community. How he expected to achieve such a feat by leading nearly simultaneous coordinated suicide attacks is still a mystery. Perhaps that mystery can be solved if Pulasthini Rajendran, alias Sarah, the wife of Achchi Mohammdu Mohammadu Hasthun, the suicide bomber who blew himself up at St. Sebastian’s Church, at Katuwapitiya, close to Negombo town, could be found. She most likely fled to India, by sea, in September 2019. In spite of claims Sarah is alive, the government is yet to establish the truth. The claim by some that she was the RAW mole in the Zahran’s terror camp might be the reason why she found ready refuge in India after being part of such a vicious carnage here.
Dr. Hoole ascertained that unlike Zahran Hashim, Prabhakaran’s violent career hadn’t been so meticulously planned, but the latter’s project lasted for more than three decades. However, the main thrust of ‘Sri Lanka’s Easter Tragedy: When the Deep State gets out of its Depth’ is to blame the heinous crime on what the author described as ‘Deep State’ comprising influential sections of political parties, civil administration and the military. The readiness of ‘Deep State’ to undertake operations at the expense of the rules of the land, regardless of political consequences, is certainly a frightening prospect. Perhaps, the P CoI should request Dr. Rajan Hoole to help in the examination of the Easter Sunday attacks.
Although, there hadn’t been a single NTJ-linked incident, following the Easter attacks, it would be of pivotal importance to verify Dr. Rajan Hoole’s assertions. Did Zahran Hashim decide to mark NTJ’s emergence with a suicide bombing campaign, in the wake of his abortive bid to get three parliamentary seats? Perhaps, Dr. Rajan Hoole is wrong. But, can P CoI disregard an opportunity to establish the truth.
There was reference to Pol Pot’s Cambodia in relation to the weakening of the judiciary, communal violence and annihilation of JVP-inspired insurgencies et al.
Did JRJ plan riots before Thinnaveli killings?
Dr. Rajan Hoole, in his latest work, repeated accusation levelled in ‘The Arrogance of Power: Myths, decadence and murder,’ that the July 1983 violence had been pre-planned and was unleashed immediately after the LTTE attack on an army patrol at Thinnaveli, Jaffna, on July 23, 1983. The first executive President had been accused of directing the power of the State and the UNP trade union setup (Jathika Sevaka Sangamaya) against the Tamil community. Reference was made to JRJ seeking US and Israeli assistance to establish a security apparatus.
Amusingly, Dr. Hoole asserted that Indian intervention took place in the wake of JRJ inviting/seeking US and Israeli security cooperation following the anti-Tamil riots, where the President deceitfully blamed the JVP.
Nothing can be further from the truth than the assertion that the Indian intervention took place in 1987. India forced President JRJ to accept deployment of the Indian Army, in the Northern and Eastern Provinces, in July 1987, several years after New Delhi created an environment conducive for military occupation in the guise of restoring peace. In fact, the Thinnaveli ambush couldn’t have taken place, if not for India or some other party providing the expertise and the technology to half a dozen terrorist groups, including the LTTE, over a period of time.
Indian strategists obviously triggered violence by providing the LTTE the required expertise to take it to the next level. The LTTE proved its capacity and capability to exploit Indian training when Prabhakaran took on the Indian Army, in Oct 1987. By the time New Delhi was forced to call off its Sri Lanka mission, at the behest of Premadasa, 1,300 Indian officers, and men, were killed, and over 2,500 wounded. Indian trainers can be really happy about their success in training foreign terrorists. Perhaps, the Indian misadventure can be blamed on ‘Deep State’ in India.
Sri Lanka should be grateful to the late one-time India’s High Commissioner in Colombo, J.N. Dixit, for setting the record straight in his memoirs, ‘Makers of India’s Foreign Policy’, published in 2004.
Dixit asserted that the decision to give active support to Sri Lankan Tamil militants could be considered one of the two major foreign policy blunders made by the then Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. But he strongly defended the Prime Minister’s action, while asserting Gandhi couldn’t have afforded the emergence of Tamil separatism, in India, by refusing to support the aspirations of Sri Lankan Tamils [Chapter 6:An Indocentric Practitioner of Realpolitik-Makers of India’s Foreign Policy].
However, Dixit failed to explain how the Prime Minister hoped to achieve her twin objectives by recruiting, training, arming and deploying thousands of Sri Lankan Tamil youth against an elected government. India cannot absolve itself of the responsibility for helping Sri Lankan terrorists establish contact with international terrorist groups. The Indian action caused irrevocable damage to Indo-Lanka relations. The Maldives, too, suffered due to Indian intervention in Sri Lanka. Dixit totally ignored the Maldivian factor, though India was responsible for the coup attempt in the Maldives by way of providing training to those who mounted a sea-borne raid, in early Nov 1988. The raiders belonged to Indian-trained PLOTE, now represented in parliament.
Three years later, a Sea borne LTTE team executed a top secret plan that led to the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi, who ordered the deployment of the Indian Army in Sri Lanka.
Muslim extremism-military links
Dr. Hoole’s allegations, pertaining to the role played by Muslim youth in Sri Lanka’s war against the LTTE, too, should be examined against the backdrop of allegations that renegade LTTE Commander, Karuna Amman, provided them weapons training. Can claims that Muslim youth, and those ex-LTTE cadres loyal to Karuna, fought in high-risk battles/took part in risky operations, during 2004-2007 period, be substantiated? No less a person than the wartime Army Commander, the then Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka, while acknowledging the support received from the breakaway LTTE faction, however, denied any high-profile role being played by them in crushing the LTTE militarily. In the absence of proper official account of the involvement of Tamil groups, as well as the LTTE breakaway faction, in ‘operations’ against the LTTE, the public can be easily deceived. Ex-members of Tamil groups ‘worked’ for the military in various capacities. That cannot be denied. There is no harm in acknowledging their contribution, though such open admission might not be acceptable to some.
The P CoI can inquire into Dr. Hoole’s findings as part of its overall efforts to unravel the mystery. Can there be any rational explanation for lawmaker M.A. Sumanthiran to publicly justifying the Easter Sunday massacre, in spite of at least 70 of those perished being totally innocent Tamils. So, any price is not too high for political expediency?
Dr. Hoole made no reference to Sumanthiran’s declaration though he commented on various developments and the situation. The author indicated that he didn’t desire to respond to The Island queries as regards Sumanthiran’s shocking statement at an event organized by the Sinhala weekly Annidda to celebrate its first anniversary at the BMICH. The President’s Counsel, and then TNA mouthpiece, alleged that the Easter Sunday carnage was a result of Sri Lanka’s failure to ensure certain basic values. The TNA heavyweight warned of dire consequences, unless Sri Lanka addressed the grievances of the minorities.
Sumanthiran said that no conversation took place today without reference to the Easter Sunday attacks. The lawmaker said that the public was asking what was going to happen because the country was stunned by what happened on that day. Sumanthiran said: All of us were so complacent we lived in a fool’s paradise imagining that the country was in peace in the absence of violence. As there had been no fighting for 10 years, people assumed the country had attained peace. “
Such an attack would have happened some day because the country had not laid the foundation for peaceful co-existence in this country, the TNA heavyweight said. “What we saw was a false edifice. And we were quite happy to carry on with that. Three decades of violent conflict that emanated from the North and East kept us on our toes and those days we actually saw the need to address those issues in a very deep and meaningful way”.
Sumanthiran alleged that once the war was brought to a conclusion, in May 2009, those responsible assumed there was no requirement to address those issues. They continued to pay lip service, the lawmaker alleged, adding: “Whenever issues were raised, they say they must resolve those issues. But deep down, they didn’t feel those issues had to be addressed.”
Referring to the Easter Sunday carnage, Sumanthiran said it was most unfortunate that something like that had to happen for the country to reflect and realize that it necessarily had to go back to certain basic values by which all could live together as a country. Sumanthiran warned: “Unless we agree on those basic values we are doomed.”
Declaring that there wouldn’t be any future for the country unless consensus could be reached on what those basic values were, Sumanthiran called equality a key value.
The Easter Sunday carnage remains a mystery, though pathetic failure on the part of law enforcement and military, as well as the political leadership, to thwart the NTJ operation, has been established beyond doubt.
By Shamindra Ferdinando